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Kids can learn about being a youth volunteer tonight at Conner Prairie

It’s recruitment time for another class of Conner Prairie youth volunteers.

So if you know a young person who will be 10 years old by April 1 and would be great interpreting on the Conner Prairie grounds in Fishers, then encourage the youth and his or her parents to attend tonight’s  Conner Prairie Prospective Youth Info Meeting. It’s 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. today in the Conner Prairie Welcome Center. No need to RSVP. The meeting is open to youth applicants and their parents or guardians.

The Conner Prairie youth volunteer program, for ages 10-18, teaches its youth about history in a hands-on environment. At the same time, the youth volunteer in 1836 Prairietown, 1816 Lenape Indian trading camp and the 1863 Civil War Journey, plus Treetop Outpost, Conner Barn, and Discover Station and Create Connect in the Welcome Center. Youth volunteers help with special events, prepare crafts and clean artifacts. They help with chores, scoop waste in the animal barn and learn how to safely throw a tomahawk. They learn about Civil War surgeries so they can talk about it with visitors, learn how to spin wool on a spinning wheel and learn how to take care of farm animals. Youth volunteers can learn proficiencies, such as how to chop wood and how to start a fire.

Youth are also invited to volunteer at Conner Prairie’s special event programs, such as Headless Horseman, Merry Prairie and Breakfast with Santa. Older youth, in 2021, were offered opportunities to volunteer with the younger kids during the Conner Prairie Summer Camp.

All of the new youth volunteers will wear Conner Prairie’s green shirts as modern third-person interpreters. Youth volunteers who also choose to be first-person interpreters will wear period costumes, which they buy from Conner Prairie or have made through Conner Prairie’s clothing coordinators.

Being a Conner Prairie youth volunteer looks good on a student’s resume, helps students who need volunteer hour requirements for school and gain leadership skills. Plus make some new friends.

My 15-year-old daughter has been a Conner Prairie youth volunteer since 2018.  She’s learned so much in her four years in the program, including public speaking, confidence and how to present herself in front of adults.

She learned about leadership, especially in the volunteer youth spinning program, for which she was a captain in 2021. The program offered opportunities to learn new skills, about 1836 cooking in the Golden Eagle Inn in Prairietown, “a good life skill,” she said, and “using an ax,” “starting a fire,” and “knowing how to tend fires and be safe around fires.” She learned how to safely use “knives in the kitchen while cutting carrots and peeling potatoes,” and learned other “responsibilities” in the kitchen. She learned “how to work with animals” and “different things about farm animals and how they are not pets and teaching kids that.”

She learned “how to work with adults and how to communicate with them,” and “how to be responsible on the grounds. She said, “A big thing” that youth volunteers learn at Conner Prairie “is talking to people.”  Many youth volunteers “are very shy when they come in,” she said. “They haven’t had a lot of experience in public speaking and talking to people … Even myself, I was awkward around people my age … I was very awkward when I first started working .. But one thing you learn there is the confidence to be able to talk to people … and show people what you’re passionate about.” She also learned “a lot about history.” She said, “And depending where you work (volunteering on the grounds), it’s great experience everywhere for everything and every job and every career that you can possibly have. It will really set you up for that. And it’s great on your resume.”

I remember when my daughter applied to be a part of the youth volunteer program. Each applicant was required to complete an indepth application, which asked about their experience, particularly with history and science and working with animals, and about their historic skills, such as sewing, weaving and carpentry, and other talents that would make them a good volunteer. They also had to respond to two essay questions.

During my daughter’s round of interviews, applicants were asked to talk about themselves, to tell a story about a mystery object and to share their talents. Her class of 2018 class was “very creative.” One child had made a cookie dispenser from Legos. Another shared his Civil War reenactment skills. Other children demonstrated their abilities at making textiles or shared about their cooking skills and care of animals.

Her class was the biggest class at Conner Prairie at the time. I recall how becoming a youth volunteer was so highly competitive. The year that my daughter applied, she was among 105 youth, ages 10-18, who applied to be youth volunteers, and only 57 were selected to move on to the interview round, and only 34 were actually invited to be a part of the youth volunteer program.

On the 2018 welcoming day, the new youth volunteers spent seven hours of their day learning what it’s going to be like as a youth volunteer. They toured the grounds, the behind-the-scenes costume rooms and places that I had not even seen.

They heard from Bill Freil, senior interpreter, who assists with the youth volunteer program and Sarah Morin-Wilson, youth experience manager, and from current youth volunteers, who helped as trainers on this new youth volunteer training day, plus some other museum coordinators.

Did you know that Rounders is an 1836 version of baseball, and an outfitter is a volunteer in a blue shirt who gives directions at Prairietown crossroads? That’s part of learning “ConnerPrairieese,” a glossary of nearly six dozen terms that new youth volunteers are expected to learn.

As a parent of a new youth volunteer, I also attended an information session that reassured parents about the safety of our children, how to sign up for volunteer shifts and what’s to be expected. So, parents should plan to attend the youth welcoming day in 2022.

Each season, personable staff members guide youth volunteers to help them develop their people skills, including how to speak with and interact with museum visitors of all ages.

Youth are required to volunteer for one full year and a minimum of 120 hours during that year.

I encourage any interested youth to learn more about the program.

If the youth applicants can’t attend tonight, they can still apply online by the Jan. 7 deadline. Scholarships for clothing and travel are available. Visit https://www.connerprairie.org/support/get-involved/youth-volunteer/

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.


Want MORE?

What: Conner Prairie Prospective Youth Info Meeting.

When: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. today. No RSVP needed.

Where: Conner Prairie Welcome Center, Overlook room, 13400 Allisonville Road, Fishers.

Good to know: Youth volunteer program is for ages 10-18.

Info: https://www.connerprairie.org/support/get-involved/youth-volunteer/